Splitting our Historian 2: Genealogical Information

This arti­cle is con­tin­ued from Split­ting our His­to­rian 1: Peo­ple.

The other side of the coin is our vast trove of genealog­i­cal infor­ma­tion. Our five pub­lished Strong Fam­ily Updates vol­umes are only a small por­tion of the infor­ma­tion we have col­lected and organized.

The SFAA is a genealog­i­cal soci­ety. One of the best ways to serve our mem­ber­ship and poten­tial mem­ber­ship is to pro­vide author­i­ta­tive infor­ma­tion regard­ing the Strong fam­ily and descen­dants. We have the infor­ma­tion to be shared, but it’s just not that simple!

This is the quandary that I’ve been strug­gling with for years.

The Offi­cial Geneal­ogy Database

Elisha and Mary A. (Strong) Richards

Elisha and Mary A. (Strong) Richards

I remain con­vinced that our ideal sit­u­a­tion would be to have one or more “offi­cial” geneal­ogy data­bases, such as with Fam­ily Tree Maker. At any point in time, we can click a but­ton and gen­er­ate a new book with the lat­est infor­ma­tion received. This book is in elec­tronic form. It can be pur­chased and mailed out on CD, or even be put up for sale on Ama­zon, Barnes & Noble, EBay, etc. EBook pub­lish­ing is def­i­nitely the way of the future AND it’s what the younger gen­er­a­tion has come to expect.

The huge advan­tage of ebooks is that we don’t need to deeply cut our mate­r­ial. Our cur­rent pub­lished books, the five Strong Fam­ily Updates vol­umes, were very heav­ily con­densed to keep the num­ber of pages down. With ebooks, adding another dozen pages just does not mat­ter. There is no addi­tional cost!

With ebooks, we can (in the­ory) add any num­ber of pho­tographs and other research doc­u­men­ta­tion. We can add sto­ries and essays just as with the pub­lished vol­umes. We could include spe­cific essays, for exam­ple, on Northamp­ton and the Deer­field Raid of 1704.

The dif­fi­culty is that we do NOT have such a geneal­ogy data­base. We need to cre­ate it, one name at a time, by hand. I’ve tried a num­ber of ways to scan our mate­r­ial by com­puter and cre­ate the data­base, but the result is just not 100% accu­rate. That means the result is NOT accept­able! In short, we need to tran­scribe our thou­sands of printed pages, by hand, in to Fam­ily Tree Maker. Ulti­mately we need to do this… I don’t see any way around it.

Look­ing for­ward over the next 10, 20, or 50 years, our geneal­ogy data­base allows us to enter new infor­ma­tion as it is received. We can turn around and imme­di­ately pub­lish the updated mate­r­ial for our membership.

To be sure, merely adding facts to Fam­ily Tree Maker is not the same as cre­at­ing a pub­lish­able book. How­ever, just get­ting the facts out in book form is a great start. We may have to leave the proper edit­ing of those facts to a future gen­er­a­tion! Our part is to ensure our future gen­er­a­tion has those facts to edit.

Our Unpub­lished but Orga­nized Material

We already have a lot of mate­r­ial which has not been published.

First, we have the “man­u­scripts in progress.” After pub­lish­ing our Strong Fam­ily Updates books, we received addi­tional infor­ma­tion from our read­ers and new mem­bers. Our prior his­to­ri­ans turned these into updated Updates man­u­scripts but they were never published.

Sec­ond, I have about 24 shelf feet of paper mate­ri­als sub­mit­ted by our mem­ber­ship over the decades. Much of this was orig­i­nal source mate­r­ial for the Strong Fam­ily Updates books. How­ever, the mate­r­ial was very highly con­densed to fit in the pub­lished books. It would there­fore ben­e­fit our future to work through this mate­r­ial, folder by folder, glean­ing all infor­ma­tion suit­able to be pub­lished. With elec­tronic pub­lish­ing there is no con­cern over the length of a book, or the length of a person’s bio. I, for one, would like access to all the infor­ma­tion available!

Third, we have infor­ma­tion sit­ting in the base­ments of our mem­ber­ship, par­tic­u­larly with our mem­bers who wrote the Strong Fam­ily Updates books.

Finally, we have the more recent infor­ma­tion submitted.

We obvi­ously can’t just dump this hap­haz­ardly upon our read­ing pub­lic. This is the quandary.

Stop­gap

As an interim stop­gap mea­sure, we plan to get some infor­ma­tion out to our read­ing pub­lic. Here’s what we are doing.

First, we are run­ning all of our pub­lished books through my scan­ner to cre­ate PDF books on CD. We’re split­ting this up by line. For exam­ple, Updates Vol­ume III con­tains nine dif­fer­ent lines (John Jr., Abi­gail, Expe­ri­ence, Samuel, etc.). Pic­ture putting all the Samuel on one CD, Abi­gail on another CD, Sarah on another CD, and so on.

Then, we take all of our man­u­scripts in progress, and add them to the rel­e­vant CD. All man­u­scripts cov­er­ing descen­dants of Samuel go to the Samuel CD. All CDs get the exist­ing indexes, essays, front mat­ter, and any­thing else help­ful to the per­son research­ing that line.

So far, this is a straight-forward project. It’s just a mat­ter of my tak­ing suf­fi­cient time to com­plete the project. I have the scan­ner, I have the only copy of the man­u­scripts in progress, and I have the books to run through the scanner.

How­ever, from the reader’s stand­point, this is not ideal. First, we have the two-volume Dwight’s His­tory of the Strong Fam­ily. Then we have the Strong Fam­ily Updates, which are updates to rather than replace­ments of Dwight’s his­tory. And then we have the man­u­scripts in progress, which are updates to the updates!

Crowd­sourced Offi­cial Database

To cre­ate the Offi­cial SFAA Research Data­base means tran­scrib­ing thou­sands upon thou­sands of our printed pages, not to men­tion addi­tional thou­sands of pages not yet pub­lished. One thing we have going for us is that every­thing is very well organized.

Our only option is to take on the project one tiny piece at a time. We can start at the top, or we can start at the bottom.

For exam­ple, one of my Strong lines is the Sarah (Strong) Barnard line.

To start from the top, I would begin a fresh Fam­ily Tree Maker data­base with Sarah Strong and her first hus­band Joseph Barnard. I would then con­tinue through all of their known descen­dants. This becomes the Offi­cial Research Data­base for the Sarah line, and we can gen­er­ate elec­tronic books directly from this database.

John Lang­behn has got­ten us started on this top-down approach by tran­scrib­ing (so far) about 70% of the two-volume Dwight books into Fam­ily Tree Maker. I would split that into the indi­vid­ual lines, and use the Sarah sec­tion as my start­ing point for the Offi­cial Research Data­base for the Sarah line.

We could also take the “bot­tom up” approach. And, indeed, this is the approach I’ve been exper­i­ment­ing with this spring. I have my own very care­fully vet­ted Barnard data­base. I’ve moved it to Fam­ily Tree Maker and this is the begin­ning of my Offi­cial Research Data­base for the Sarah line. I’m begin­ning with my own mate­r­ial, and will be fold­ing in the pub­lished and unpub­lished SFAA material.

With this approach, we can take any inter­ested His­to­rian who is will­ing to begin with their own mate­r­ial. Use that as the seed for their sec­tion of the Offi­cial Research Data­base. That way, each per­son begins by work­ing with the mate­r­ial with which they are the most famil­iar. Dif­fer­ent peo­ple work in dif­fer­ent sec­tions, and indeed in com­pletely sep­a­rate Fam­ily Tree Maker databases.

Crowd­sourced Participation

What if you’re will­ing to help out as a vol­un­teer, help­ing to cre­ate our Offi­cial Research Data­base? We hand you one rel­a­tively small task at a time, based on your own inter­est and pref­er­ence. We begin with the choice:

  • Would you pre­fer to begin tran­scrib­ing from scratch, or
  •  Would you pre­fer to begin with what you’ve per­son­ally researched?

 

Crowd­sourced Tran­scrib­ing from Scratch

Olivia Langdon Clemens 1869, wife of Mark Twain, of the Sarah line

Olivia Lang­don Clemens 1869, wife of Mark Twain, of the Sarah line

Let’s use the Sarah line as an exam­ple so you can see what I mean.

We begin with Dwight’s 2-volume His­tory of the Strong Fam­ily. Only 3 and a half pages (pp. 1465–1468) cover Sarah. I believe that John Lang­behn has already tran­scribed those pages into Fam­ily Tree Maker.

We start by “export­ing” the Sarah por­tion of John Langbehn’s data­base. It’s tiny but it becomes our start­ing point. This is now our Offi­cial SFAA Research Data­base for the Sarah line. Thanks to John Lang­behn, our first step is already done!

Next we look at Strong Fam­ily Updates Vol­ume III. Pages 439–507 cover the Sarah line. Note that every­thing here is new mate­r­ial, not con­tained in the Dwight books. Note that this mate­r­ial is bro­ken into sev­eral sec­tions. This is impor­tant because it makes things eas­ier on our volunteers!

  • Pages 440–444 are the descen­dants of Dr. John Barnard M.D. John Barnard MD is already in our data­base because John Lang­behn typed him in.  We need to type in the descen­dants. In other words this is a rel­a­tively small task of tran­scrib­ing pages 440–444.
  • Pages 445–477 are the descen­dants of Sgt. Joseph Barnard, Jr. This is a larger task, but I for exam­ple would gladly take it on because this is my direct ances­tral line. I know these peo­ple, so to speak! Assum­ing that John Barnard MD’s descen­dants are sep­a­rate from Joseph Barnard Jr’s descen­dants, two sep­a­rate vol­un­teers could work on these two tasks sep­a­rately, and com­bine the results later. We need a data­base expert to do the com­bin­ing, though, because some­times there ARE over­laps and inter­mar­riages. Those inter­mar­riages are fun to find, but they are dif­fi­cult to track!
  • Pages 478–485 are the descen­dants of Han­nah Barnard. Again, tran­scrib­ing this mate­r­ial into our data­base is a sep­a­rate task from each of the above. We can take one step at a time, with no par­tic­u­lar deadline.
  • Pages 486–495 are the descen­dants of Thank­ful Barnard.
  • Pages 496–507 are the descen­dants of Ebenezer Barnard.

 

All of the Strong Fam­ily Updates vol­umes are orga­nized this way. Each vol­un­teer can take on one sec­tion in any of the vol­umes. When that is com­plete, take on another sec­tion. Each vol­un­teer would prob­a­bly want to start with the sec­tion or sec­tions which are their direct ances­tors. That’s great; it all fits together!

The next step involves our Man­u­scripts in Progress. They are addi­tional infor­ma­tion received after the Strong Fam­ily Updates books were pub­lished. They are orga­nized, struc­tured, and split up exactly the same way as the Updates books. The next step is to fold in the infor­ma­tion from the Man­u­script in Progress for that sec­tion just transcribed.

Given that we have thou­sands of pages to tran­scribe, this seems like an over­whelm­ing project. But the fact is that we already have things divided down into small pieces. We do one piece at a time, and over time, we have our Offi­cial SFAA Data­bases to serve us the next hun­dred years.

Crowd­sourced Tran­scrib­ing from Your Own Research

The “tran­scribe from scratch” approach begins with the old­est infor­ma­tion first. We begin with the orig­i­nal mate­r­ial, add in the updates, add in the updates to the updates, and finally add in any newest mate­r­ial we might have.

The other approach is to begin with the newest mate­r­ial first. That is, begin with your own research into your own por­tion of the Strong fam­ily. We start the Offi­cial Data­base with your Strong-related mate­r­ial. We then fold in any Man­u­scripts in Progress affect­ing this same group. We then work with mate­r­ial from the Strong Fam­ily Updates, and finally we add any remain­ing infor­ma­tion from Dwight’s 2-volume His­tory of the Strong Family.

By work­ing with the newest mate­r­ial first, we now have the abil­ity to add more new mate­r­ial as it comes in (at least, for this por­tion of the fam­ily). Each vol­un­teer begins with the area that he or she knows best, since he or she per­son­ally did that research or per­son­ally knows the per­son who did.

I believe both approaches (start tran­scrib­ing from scratch or begin with your own research) are equally valid. I think it can be a sim­ple mat­ter of pref­er­ence for each vol­un­teer. Either way we are cre­at­ing our Offi­cial SFAA Data­bases, one small piece at a time.

Crowd­sourc­ing Coordinator

So long as we have a per­son coor­di­nat­ing our vol­un­teers, we can han­dle as many vol­un­teers as might be avail­able. A group project like this, based on vol­un­teer con­tri­bu­tions, is often called crowd­sourc­ing. The Crowd­sourc­ing Coor­di­na­tor is myself.

As the Crowd­sourc­ing Coor­di­na­tor, I have cho­sen to stan­dard­ize on the lat­est ver­sion of Fam­ily Tree Maker as our tool of choice. We fol­low the guide­lines and best prac­tices as rec­om­mended by the folks who make Fam­ily Tree Maker. If you’re famil­iar with Fam­ily Tree Maker, you prob­a­bly qual­ify as a volunteer!

Col­lec­tor of Information

Let me illus­trate the prob­lem with some­thing that came up this past week­end. I dis­cov­ered that my dis­tant cousin Kat Steck­ler descends from Joseph Barnard and Sarah Strong, as do I. Her 3rd great grand­fa­ther Eras­tus Barnard is in Updates Vol­ume III. My addi­tional records go one step fur­ther to name Eras­tus’ chil­dren includ­ing Kat’s 2nd great grand­fa­ther David.

The prob­lem is this: As she sends us her geneal­ogy (and she has done so), what do we do with it?

One thing we could do is fold it in to our exist­ing man­u­script, but that dou­bles the work since we ulti­mately want it to be in data­base form. Also, it cur­rently IS in data­base form.

The other thing we can do is add it to our data­base. The trou­ble is, how do we con­nect it up? I’m just start­ing the tran­scrib­ing, and I have not got­ten so far as either David or Eras­tus. In this spe­cific case, if I had the time, I could add Eras­tus and descen­dants as an uncon­nected tree and con­nect them up later. How­ever, as a gen­eral case, all we can do is col­lect the infor­ma­tion for later.

We there­fore have another His­to­rian role, that of Col­lec­tor of Genealog­i­cal Infor­ma­tion. We could ide­ally have a Col­lec­tor of Infor­ma­tion for each of our descen­dant lines, or groups of lines. How­ever, if we have some­one able to be the Col­lec­tor of Infor­ma­tion with­out hav­ing to take on any other roles, a sin­gle per­son should be fine!

This per­son is quite impor­tant to the SFAA’s future. I can show this per­son exactly how to orga­nize and file the infor­ma­tion. It’s tricky, to be sure, because these days we could receive things on paper, via email, in elec­tronic (GEDCOM) form, on CD, via the mem­ber­ship appli­ca­tion, and so on.

We are cur­rently extremely well orga­nized, with eas­ily located file fold­ers for each Strong per­son and their descen­dants. I have count­less care­fully orga­nized and labeled file fold­ers full of paper sub­mis­sions and cor­re­spon­dence. I have about 24 shelf feet of file fold­ers in all!

The dif­fi­cult part of the role is under­stand­ing when the infor­ma­tion is good enough for us to use. We need to meet a rea­son­able genealog­i­cal stan­dard; we need to pro­vide source cita­tions, and so on. We need to get enough infor­ma­tion that we can get it into the right file folder for future use!

Our Col­lec­tor of Infor­ma­tion, there­fore, needs to know when the infor­ma­tion is suit­able for pub­lish­ing in a future Update or for adding to our Offi­cial Data­base. This likely involves a lot of back-and-forth dis­cus­sion with the per­son offer­ing to sub­mit the infor­ma­tion, and of course, clas­si­fy­ing and sav­ing the infor­ma­tion once it’s been col­lected. I can pro­vide guid­ance for these tasks.

Seeker of Exist­ing Information

This is a sep­a­rate and rather impor­tant role. We have, amongst our mem­ber­ship, tremen­dous amounts of genealog­i­cal data. In par­tic­u­lar, the peo­ple who wrote the five Strong Fam­ily Updates vol­umes may have source mate­r­ial, elec­tronic copies, and so on, of the orig­i­nal mate­r­ial and man­u­scripts. We don’t want this infor­ma­tion lost to the Asso­ci­a­tion! We there­fore need one or more per­sons inter­ested in tact­fully locat­ing and dis­cussing these repositories.

Archivist

So where do I fit in? Have I handed over every­thing? No indeed! As the SFAA Archivist:

  • I have sev­eral thou­sand pages of mate­r­ial to tran­scribe for the Sarah line.
  • I have the five Updates vol­umes to dig­i­tize for sale as Books on CD, split up by descen­dant line.
  • I have the Man­u­scripts in Progress to col­lect and pub­lish on CD as our stop­gap measure.
  • Should we have vol­un­teer tran­scribers, I am coor­di­nat­ing our crowd­sourced Offi­cial Data­base efforts. As the Keeper of the Data­base, I cre­ate the guide­lines and com­bine the vol­un­teers’ results.
  • I have those 24 shelf feet of research mate­r­ial to be gone through folder by folder.

 

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